Obligation to Protect Not a License for War

An international obligation to intervene in situations of war or widespread violations of human rights does not mean a country or group of countries can decide to take military action inside another nation, said the Vatican’s foreign minister. “The responsibility to protect” is not a call to arms, “but to a profound and mandatory spirit of solidarity,” Archbishop Dominique Mamberti told the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 1. Archbishop Mamberti acknowledged that after the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons on its own people in August, some countries recognized they had to act in accordance with their “responsibility to protect” the defenseless. He worried that the principle is sometimes understood erroneously, “as if it consisted of a justification of the recourse to arms.” But the shared obligation to protect others, he said, “asks each person, starting with the leaders of nations, to feel affected by the great humanitarian crises as if they were their own…and to work immediately to put into action all available means—diplomatic, economic, public opinion, as well as the measures envisioned by the U.N. Charter—in view of an effective solution.”

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